Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2013.10.16

Japan-U.S. 2+2>4

JBPress on October 11, 2013

Two plus two is greater than four. This was the result of the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee (2+2) (SCC) meeting held on October 3, 2013 in Tokyo. For those who do not know the history of the SCC, some explanation may be required. These meetings are held at irregular intervals between the Japanese Ministers for Foreign Affairs and of Defense and the U.S. Secretaries of State and of Defense: two ministers from each country, hence, two plus two. Those who know about the SCC surely considered this Tokyo meeting to be an epoch-making event. Here are the reasons why.

First, it used to be that two plus two was less than three. Believe it or not, until 1989, the SCC had consisted of two ministers on the Japanese side, and the Ambassador to Tokyo and Commander of U.S. Forces Japan on the U.S. side. The current style and composition of the 2+2 ministerial meetings only started in 1990.

Secondly, two plus two has long been less than four. In the last two decades, one of the U.S. Secretaries had often been absent from 2+2 meetings. The October 2013 meeting, however, attended by the Japanese Ministers for Foreign Affairs and of Defense and the U.S. Secretaries of State and of Defense, was the first 2+2 meeting in Tokyo with four full ministers participating.

Putting such formalities aside, this Tokyo 2+2 was still significant. Who could have imagined that, after three and a half years of DPJ (the Democratic Party of Japan) rule, the four ministers would get together in October 2013 Tokyo, welcome Shinzo Abe's various efforts in the national security arena and agree to revise the 1997 Japan-U.S. defense guidelines.

Japan's Asahi Shimbun, for example, sarcastically reported that the U.S. and Japan are "having two different dreams on the same bed." But it seems intellectually dishonest to draw such a conclusion, no matter how negatively one tries to analyze the positive elements referred to in the Tokyo SSC Joint Statement. Here are some examples worth mentioning.

- Reference to China

This was one of the highlights in this bilateral document. It states, "The Ministers affirmed that the Alliance should remain well positioned to deal with a range of persistent and emerging threats to peace and security, as well as challenges to international norms." Then it refers to "coercive and destabilizing behaviors in the maritime domain; disruptive activities in space and cyberspace."

Undoubtedly the U.S. side was the more reluctant to name China in the document but, in the end, China was referred to by name. After all, whether China is mentioned or not, no one in East Asia and the Western Pacific can miss that the above "persistent and emerging threats" in the "maritime domain, space and cyberspace" mostly come from China.

- Reference to the Chinese military buildup

The Joint Statement also expressed concern about China's recent military buildup by stating that "the Ministers continue to encourage China" to "improve openness and transparency in its military modernization with its rapid expanding military investments." The expression, slightly more detailed than in the 2011 SCC document, is an unmistakable message to the PLA.

- Reference to JAXA sharing information with U.S. forces

Another notable reference was made to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA). The document says, "the Ministers welcomed the conclusion of the U.S.-Japan space situational awareness (SSA) Sharing Agreement" and "welcomed the commitment of both countries to an early realization of JAXA's provision of SSA information to the United States".

This news may not be big in other nations, but for those painfully aware of the pacifist (read 'reluctant') tendency of Japan's bureaucracy regarding military affairs, JAXA's readiness to share their own space related information with the U.S. military is unprecedented. This once-unthinkable practice is another sign of the evolution of bilateral allied relations.

- Reference to advanced military capabilities

The Ministers also "confirmed that deployment of more advanced capabilities in Japan has strategic significance" and stated that the U.S. intends to deploy two squadrons of MV-22 aircraft, Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, F-35B aircraft and rotationally deploy Global Hawk unmanned aircraft in coming years. Deployment of such new systems further enhance deterrence in East Asia.

- U.S. welcoming Japan's efforts

Most significant was the U.S. welcome of Shinzo Abe's efforts. The document says, "The United States welcomed" Japan's efforts including preparation "to establish its National Security Council and to issue its National Security Strategy," and reexamination of "the legal basis for its security including the matter of exercising its right of collective self-defense."

The U.S. also welcomed other Japanese efforts for "expanding its defense budget, reviewing its National Defense Program Guidelines, strengthening its capability to defend its sovereign territory, and broadening regional contributions, including capacity-building efforts vis-à-vis Southeast Asian countries."

Frankly speaking, the U.S. government was once not as "warm vis-à-vis Japan" as Prime Minister Abe had anticipated. News articles dispatched from Tokyo caused a lot of misunderstanding in Washington D.C., which some of Japan's neighbors, for the purpose of fanning anti-Japanese sentiments in their domestic politics, tried to take advantage of.

Given the positive outcome of this Tokyo SCC meeting outlined above, such U.S. concerns about the Abe administration seem to have subsided now and the two allies are finally in sync with each other again. Japan's neighbors must pay due attention not only to the wording of the Joint Statement itself but also the making thereof.

In addition to the above, there are more positive developments on Okinawa base issues as well.

Now it's time for both Japan and the United States to get down to business, the real business where those in the two governments actually start implementing what is written in the document. Given the East Asian strategic environment, there should be no delay in doing this.